Prof William J. Mitchell and several of his students at MIT have developed a new electric scooter that folds up when not in use.
The scooter was developed in collaboration with SYM, a major scooter manufacturer in Taiwan, and ITRI, Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute. A prototype of the new design was unvieled at the Milan Auto Show earlier this month.
Motor scooters are a very popular form of transportation in Asian and European cities, Mitchell said, because they provide convenient, inexpensive transportation. But conventional scooters, using inefficient two-stroke petrol engines, are also a source of local air pollution.
The non-polluting electric design, which eliminates the powertrain by putting motors directly inside each of the two wheels, made it possible to design the scooter so that it could be folded up to about half its size, making it easy to store in crowded urban environments.
'When folded, it can also be easily wheeled along like a trolley suitcase, and is no larger, making it easy to take along on trains or even indoors,' said Prof Mitchell, who is the Alexander W. Dreyfoos Professor of Architecture and Media Arts and Sciences at MIT.
The simplified design could mean low production costs too, he said. 'A typical petrol scooter has about 1,000 parts, but ours only has 150.'
Mitchell and his team envision the scooters being provided in racks at convenience stores, train stations and other convenient city locations as one-way rentals. Users would swipe a credit card to remove a scooter from the rack (in which its batteries would be kept fully charged up), unfold it for the trip and then fold it up again to deposit at another rack at the destination.
The viability of the one-way-rental business model has been demonstrated in Paris, Mitchell said, where one company has recently begun a similar service with 1,000 bicycles.
The team now plans to further develop the prototype to come up with two different production models. One will be a refinement of the folding scooter introduced in Milan, and the other will be an even simpler model, without the folding capability, to be produced for regions where low cost is most important and space restrictions are not as crucial.